A Genuine Feeling

An EP Review and Interview of Azim Zain and His Lovely Bones

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“I never really wanted to play in a weird folk punk band at the start,” Azim Zain replies when asked about the genre labels slapped on his music. This makes sense: although Zain and his band play a lush combination of indie rock and emo with softer folk influences, it’s often the lyrics which take centre stage. The second part of his answer reveals his self-aware wit: “I just wanted to be a brown Angus Stone.”

Azim Zain’s story begins in Malaysia, where he was born and raised, however, his transition from a solo artist to a frontman was enabled by the “small, tight-knit music scene” of Canberra. The wonderfully cohesive band, Azim Zain and His Lovely Bones, was pulled together from Zain’s various connections around the city and ANU – student housing, college, and interhall talent nights. “One of the best things about the Canberra scene is that there are a lot of great, supportive people who are quite happy to help out newer acts,” he says, citing Canberra Music Blog and Smiths Alternative as examples. “So much of our growth and opportunities as a band has come because we’ve met nice people.”

This growth has resulted in the release of their excellent new EP. Its four tracks are punchy and concise, relying on clear and spacious production to give air to the instrumentation. It’s no overstatement to say that each member brings something to the table – in Zain’s words, “everyone has very different musical backgrounds and this adds character to songs where it may otherwise be lacking”. In particular, the beautifully weighted backing vocals of Ella Hunt make choruses and refrains blissfully delicate, and Will Flowers’ bass guitar on ‘Letters to Lainie’ makes the track wholesome and rewarding. Thanks to Sam O’Brien’s deep, resonant drumming, emo influences peek through at some moments, demonstrating this band’s capacity to reach the booming heights of modern emo bands  – such as The World Is A Beautiful Place and The Hotelier  – as seemingly just around the corner.

While the aesthetics of the album may often feel upbeat, the EP’s message seldom is. A quick internet browse furthers this: the band include the tags ‘emotions’ and ‘feels’ on their Triple J Unearthed profile; ‘gloom’ and ‘emo’ on their Bandcamp. For Zain, the construction of his lyrics revolves around an honest self-reflection that he can share with his audience. “I find it easier to convey emotion and passion by mostly writing about topics with quite negative origins, like sadness and self-loathing,” he shares in a franker moment. “Anytime I try to write lyrics about having fun or being in a happy relationship, it just feels cheap and dishonest.” His desperate, rasping vocals on ‘Letters to Lainie’ and lyrics of “mending wounds” on ‘Holiday Home’, the EP’s best track, are a testament to this. “My lyrics always start as some form of emotional catharsis, but I like treating it as an introspective exercise,” he says, before adding “It’s rarely a straightforward thought process.”

Zain’s music with His Lovely Bones occurs at the same time as bands such as Gang of Youths, The Smith Street Band, and Camp Cope gain traction around the country (the latter of whom have played shows with Azim & co.) for their brutal, heavy depictions of emotional hardship and the Australian life. Artists such as these set themselves apart through their intensely detailed lyricism, and when queried about this, Zain agrees. It’s been an effort to balance the interesting and personal aspects in his lyrics with more understandable and generic phrases. “As I played to the public more, I decided that I’m no longer just playing as an outlet for my own thoughts”, causing him to leave behind “pretentious, self-indulgent” references. “This leaves enough room for listeners to take what they want out of interpreting my songs without compromising my personal need to unload my emotions and reflections on audiences.”

Azim Zain works with His Lovely Bones in an attempt to perfect a balancing act of emotional unloading. Though their music can be canvassed with half a dozen genre labels, the band’s versatility in style will only add to their appeal in the long run. Most of all, it’s Zain’s poetic honesty, articulating emotions that “start from a negative place like anger and sadness”. He continues: “When they hit, you know it’s a genuine feeling.”

Azim Zain and his Lovely Bones launched their new EP “Monsoon Season” at Transit, on Friday July 15.